For Reasons Unknown

For Reasons Unknown

This past week, I went hiking with a friend in the Hoosier National Forest in southern Indiana.  We hiked to the site of the Lick Creek Settlement and cemetery in Orange County.  Lick Creek (commonly called Little Africa) was a thriving community of free Black families established in southern Indiana in 1817.  This predominantly Black community would grow to 260 residents by 1860 with a tavern, blacksmith shop, post office, school, church, and cemetery.  Today, the forest has reclaimed the site of the community and its neighboring farms. Nothing remains but the cemetery.

When we arrived at the trail head for Lick Creek, the National Forest had an interpretative station with information about the Lick Creek settlement.  It detailed the history of the community, its Black residents, and their feats in clearing 1500 acres of farmland, planting fields, and establishing a good life during a period when so many other Black people languished in chains.  The interpretation ended with these words, “In 1862, for reasons unknown, the Black families began to abandon the community and their farms, which were resettled by white families.”

For reasons unknown?

That is, of course, untrue.

While we may not know the exact details of why over 200 free Blacks residents left their farms, town, church and the cemetery where their people were buried, we can make an educated guess.  We know these facts

…we know the Indiana State Legislature amended the state constitution in 1851 to read, “No negro or mulatto shall come into or settle in the State, after the adoption of this constitution.” This constitution also barred free Blacks from giving testimony in a trial against a white person.

…we know southern Indiana was a hot bed for the kidnapping of free Blacks, with many recorded instances of Indiana free Blacks being forced into slavery in the south.

…we know the State passed a law in 1852 requiring all Blacks to register with the county clerk and Orange County enforced this law.

…we know white mobs attacked Black families and their property in New Albany, Indiana for two days in the summer of 1862 and that New Albany was only 35 miles from Lick Creek.

…we know when the Newby family left Lick Creek in 1862, Solomon Newby sold his land for half of what he paid for it in 1846, and noted he was leaving under “extreme duress.”

…we know the Civil War draft was instituted in 1862 and many whites were enraged at “having to risk their lives to free Black slaves.”

…we know the Knights of the Golden Circle and the Sons of Liberty – precursors to the Ku Klux Klan – operated in Orange County in the 1860s.

…we know William Bowles, a Confederate sympathizer, was a prominent leader in Paoli – the white community nearest Lick Creek – and was later convicted of treason for planning to free and arm Confederate POWs and overthrow the Indiana government.

…we know Indiana was nicknamed the middle finger of the South.

While we do not know the exact details for why the Black families of Lick Creek began to abandon their community and migrate to Canada, we can safely assume white supremacist hostility and harassment was the primary factor.  Yet, instead of offering these many verifiable facts about the racist environment in 1862 in Lick Creek, Indiana, the National Forest service decided to state that those families left “for reasons unknown.”

Editorial decisions like this uphold white supremacy and white mythology today.  By leaving the reason unknown, we allow white people to fill in the blank with whatever makes them most comfortable or confirms their deepest biases.  The white progressive can speculate better jobs in the industrializing north enticed these families to leave.  The white supremacist can argue they were too lazy or unintelligent to manage their farms and sold them to more qualified white families.  Obscuring history always allows white people to control the narrative.

This is why white supremacists have made opposition to “critical race theory” and the teaching of Black history a target for hostility and legislative action.  The last thing white supremacy wants is a full exposure of the ugly history of white violence, harassment, and injustice toward people of color.  When it comes to countless instances of historic injustice done by white people to Black people, white supremacists would prefer the reasons for the murders, kidnappings, lynching, rapes, house and church burnings, community destruction and property theft remain unknown.

As my friend and I stood at the Lick Creek cemetery and read the names of long departed Black residents on weathered tombstones, I was moved.  Into the silence of that place. I said, “I know why you left.  I’m so sorry for how white people like me harassed you, destroyed your community, ran you off your farms, stole your property and for what we continue to do today.”

I cannot repair what was done to the families at Lick Creek.

But I refuse to allow white people to pretend the hundreds of statistical inequities between white people and Black people in our society are for reasons unknown.  A short hike to Lick Creek is all you need do to see the evidence of what was destroyed and stolen.

If You Don’t Like America, Leave.

If You Don’t Like America, Leave.

Note to my white self…

One of the privileges of living in the United States is to publicly and loudly complain about and criticize our nation, our government and our society without fear of repercussions.  Complaining about the government can be very dangerous in many countries in the world.

We often forget this reality.  In the United States, complaining and criticizing our country might be our national pastime.  All of us do it, from the far right to the far left and everyone in between.  Tucker Carlson and Rachel Maddow have made successful careers by complaining and criticizing.  Millions of us watch one or the other and applaud their criticisms. For this reason, it is especially troubling when one US citizen tells another US citizen, “if you don’t like America, leave.”  This implies the other person is a second class citizen without the right to complain.

In most instances, “if they don’t like America, they should leave” is said by white people about the complaints of people of color.  Often, the statement is even more direct.  White people say, “if they don’t like America, they should go back to Africa, or Asia, or Mexico.”  This is sometimes followed by the claim, “They (people of color) should be grateful to be here.”  White people who say such things reveal themselves to be white supremacists, whether they realize it or not.

Thinking that people of color are not legitimate citizens of the United States and therefore denied the right to complain and criticize is rooted in our ugliest history.  For the first ninety years of our nation, the vast majority of people of color in America were legally denied citizenship.  Those who publicly complained about or criticized their status and treatment were whipped, tortured, and sometimes killed by white people.  Whether they liked America was irrelevant.  They had no right to leave.

It was only after the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 that white people began to tell Black people to leave.  As more and more Black people escaped from enslavement, white people in the North – including Abraham Lincoln – began to suggest Black people return to Africa.  In the days prior the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln hosted a group of free Black men and stated his opinion that “the differences between the two races and the hostile attitudes of white people toward Black people…make it better for us both, therefore, to be separated.”  Lincoln was a proponent of Black people returning to Liberia in Africa. Though few Black people wished to leave America, even many Abolitionists were advocates of sending freed Blacks back to Africa.

Unfortunately, while the Emancipation Proclamation may have freed millions of people of color, they were not free to criticize the United States.  One of the predominate opinions of white supremacists’ after the Civil War was that people of color were not legitimate citizens of the United States and therefore denied the right to complain and criticize.  As to whether people of color had the right to leave, white supremacy was of two minds.

For southern Blacks, the right to leave was quickly curtailed.  Jim Crow laws across the South made it illegal for Black people to leave jobs, counties, and states without the permission of white bosses and government officials.  Complaining was a good way to get lynched.  For northern Blacks, who escaped these Southern restrictions, those who complained of injustice and inequality were told, “If you don’t like it here, go back to the South.” In both circumstances, Southern and Northern white people shared the opinion that Black people did not have the right to complain or criticize.  This was the situation between 1865 and 1955 in America for Blacks, Asians, and Hispanics..

The Civil Rights movement fought to claim many basic rights for Black people – the right to vote, to travel freely, to live and work where you choose, to be given equal access, and to be protected from discrimination.  Lost in this discussion is another core right demanded by Black people – the right to complain and criticize their country.  During the Civil Rights movement, the government, the press and white society repeatedly responded to Black people with the refrain, “if you don’t like it…in Selma, in Montgomery, in Alabama, in the South, in our city, in our state, in our country…then leave.”  Often unsaid was the assumption Black people did not have the right to complain or criticize.  They should be grateful for “us” allowing them to live among us.

Implied in all this rhetoric – in the South and in the North – was the white supremacist idea that the United States is a white nation for white people, that the privilege to complain and criticize white society is reserved for white people.  White America has consistently said to people of color, “We own the house.  We make the rules.  If you don’t like them, you can leave.”  Whenever a white person says, “if you don’t like America, leave;” we are also saying, “your citizenship does not include the privilege to complain.”

We do this because nearly every complaint by a person of color is also a demand to end white supremacy.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. often spoke of the need to create a “more perfect union.”  His dream was to see America live up to its stated principles for all people.  Black Lives Matter continues to voice this demand.  Those who hated and disparaged King and those who hate and disparage BLM share a common desire – to silence all Black complaints and criticisms.  A “good” person of color is one who does not complain.

Based on these deeply embedded assumptions, it is not enough for progressive white people to recognize the racism of “if you don’t like America, then leave.”  We need to acknowledge how difficult it is for each of us to hear any complaint or criticism from a person of color.  We consistently diminish or disregard the complaints of the people of color around us.  Whether we admit it or not, most white people will initially respond to these complaints with anger, resentment, and disdain.  We will think, “how can they be so ungrateful and demanding after all we’ve done for them.”

Only by intentionally acknowledging this arrogance can we hope to be freed of it.  People of color have the same right to complain and criticize America as we do. When they complain, we have no right to be irritated or to ask them to leave.  If we truly believe our country’s deepest principles, we do not own this country.  We share ownership with them.  If we truly believe our country’s legal foundations, we do not get to make the rules.  We share the responsibility of perfecting its rules so that all people are treated equally and justly.

Until that is true, white people have a special responsibility to hear, value, and act on the complaints and criticisms of our fellow citizens of color.

If We Treated Airline Fatalities Like We Treat Police Brutality

If We Treated Airline Fatalities Like We Treat Police Brutality

FACT: According to a database created by the Washington Post, beginning in 2015, between 950 and 1100 people have been killed by the police every year in the United States.  There have been 8,199 documented fatalities from police action during those 8 years for an average of 1,025 deaths a year.  Blacks are twice as likely as whites to be victims of police fatalities and three times as likely to be victims of non-fatal police violence.

FACT:  A Boeing 737 – the most common airliner in use – carries 166 passengers and crew.  Six fully loaded 737s would carry 996 people.

FACT: In 2019, all Boeing 737 Maxs were grounded for two years after two crashes which resulted in 349 fatalities.  The government shut down a billion dollar industry in order to assure passenger safety.  Research determined the crashes resulted from a combination of pilot error and a dysfunctional navigation system.

QUESTION: How would the media cover air fatalities if we treated them like incidents of police brutality?


AP News

January 8th, 2023


A fully loaded Boeing 737 crashed outside of Memphis, Tennessee last night, killing all 166 passengers and crew.  This is the sixth such crash of a Boeing 737 in the past twelve months and brings the total fatalities from such crashes in the past calendar year to 996.  While the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced it is too early to determine the precise cause of the crash, investigations of the past five crashes determined a combination of pilot error and systemic failures as the primary causes.

In response to this new tragedy, President Biden announced, “As Americans grieve, the FAA conducts its investigation, and state authorities continue their work, I join the families of the victims in calling for peaceful protest,” Biden said in a statement. “Outrage is understandable, but violence is never acceptable. Violence is destructive and against the law. It has no place in peaceful protests seeking justice.”

President Biden made this announcement in anticipation of possible protests similar to those after a crash in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 that led to protests and the creation of the “Airline Passengers Matter” (APM) movement.  In 2020, a similar crash in Minneapolis, Minnesota led to national protests and a call to “Ground the Airlines.”  After some initial momentum, this movement led to a backlash and a “Back the Pilots” counter movement.  Legislation that would have seriously reformed the airline industry was passed by the House of Representatives but died in the Senate.  To date, there has been little meaningful reform of the airline industry.

Republican lawmakers have led the charge to counter the APM movement, ridicule Ground the Airlines advocates and support the airline industry.  Senator Marsha Blackburn argued, “Democrats are trying to disparage the honor of our aviation heroes and take control of our airlines.” Blackburn further stated, “The APM organization is a self-identified Marxist group that planned unlawful protests and burned our cities to the ground.” She and others suggested there is no need to reform the aviation industry when these crashes were simply the result of a few bad pilots.

In this, Senator Blackburn is correct.  In the majority of instances, pilot error has been a contributing factor in the crashes.  However, analysis of these crashes has revealed some troubling patterns.  Though Blacks are only 14% of the US population, they are twice as likely to die in an airline crash than a white passenger.  Researchers have also discovered flights with a large proportion of black passengers are three times as likely to crash.

Various explanations have been given for this statistical anomaly.  APM advocates suggest systemic racism must be at the core of this proportional discrepancy.  However, airline union and political leaders have joined the airlines in rejecting such claims as unsubstantiated and inflammatory.  After the Minneapolis crash, airline pilot’s union president Rich Walker responded, “If you’re asking me if our airlines are racist, I’m going to tell you that they are not. If you’re asking me, do we have room to grow? I would say absolutely. I would say we can’t judge a whole airline based on a few men’s actions.”  Former Vice President Mike Pence recently announced, “It is past time for America to discard the left-wing myth of systemic racism in our institutions and especially in our airlines.”  Conservative pundits often state – correctly – that more white people die in airline crashes than black people.

Progressive voices respond that any system tolerating nearly 1000 deaths a year needs to be reformed, even if these deaths are not the result of systemic racism.  They further argue that the correlation between airline deaths and race is too significant to ignore.  However, this argument was dealt a serious legal blow when the US Supreme Court ruled that “unless it can be demonstrated that these pilot induced crashes were intentionally perpetrated as racist acts, there are no grounds for concluding racism is a contributing factor.”  In the majority opinion, Judge Clarence Thomas wrote, “I have flown countless times without incident and find the claim of systemic racism in the airlines ridiculous.”

The crash in Memphis is sure to stir the continuing debate since this entire flight crew was Black.  Arguments that racist propensities on the part of white pilots have led to less diligence and more hostility toward their passengers seem less compelling after a crash of a place piloted by a Black crew.  Yet the fact that a disproportionate number of passengers on the Memphis flight were black will fuel further claims of systemic racism.  The nation seems divided over whether these crashes involve racial bias or not.  Unfortunately, while the debate rages, planes continue to fall from the sky and a thousand people die each year..

While politicians from both sides of the aisle have expressed their sadness and indignation at this recent crash, many have concluded that losing a thousand people a year to airline crashes is simply the price we pay to live in an extremely mobile world.  Republican Representative Jim Jordan stated, “I don’t know that there’s any law that can stop that evil that we saw in Memphis.” Jordan, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “What strikes me is just the lack of respect for human life. So I don’t know that any law, any training, any reform is going to change that.”

Such arguments suggest there is still not enough political will to create an airline industry where pilots are so well vetted, trained and monitored that we end this plague of pilot induced tragedies. Conservative Black pundit Larry Elder wrote in response to the Memphis crash, “An average of about 1,000 people have died annually in airline crashes over the last eight years out of a population of more than 334 million, with over 61.5 million civilians flying at least once in 2018.  The odds of a black person dying in an airline crash are too insignificant to matter.”

As leaders prepare for protests outside the Memphis International Airport tonight, APM leader, Amber Sherman announced, “We don’t need to wait for the investigation of the FAA.  We know what they are going to find.  The Memphis flight had a disproportionately high number of black passengers.  Something is deeply wrong with our airline industry.  I think it’s interesting when folks call for peace from us, as citizens who fly on these airlines, when the only ones killing people are the airlines. We’ve never had protests that weren’t peaceful. In the years that I’ve been organizing, in the years that I’ve participated in protests, they’ve always been peaceful.  But we’re tired of this.  It is completely ridiculous that we still tolerate a thousand deaths every year.”

(All quotes in this article are only slightly altered versions of real statements about police brutality and systemic racism.)

I Know Nichelle Hayes

I Know Nichelle Hayes

Once again, when it comes to issues of racial equity, justice and reconciliation, Indianapolis has made national news for all the wrong reasons.  Last week, the National Conference of African American Librarians (NCAAL) cancelled their upcoming July convention in Indianapolis in response to the refusal of the Board of the Indianapolis Marion County Public Library (IMCPL) to hire Nichelle Hayes, a Black woman and the interim CEO of IMCPL, as their new CEO.  In their statement, the NCAAL described Indianapolis as a “inhospitable location” for their conference.  In this context, “inhospitable location” is a nice way of stating “racist.”

Since, until last week, this story was a local one, let me give you some background.

In June of 2021, the Indianapolis Recorder – the local Black owned and focused newspaper – printed a story exposing a long litany of incidents of racial inequity, hostility, and discrimination within the Indianapolis library system.  In response, the Library Board and then Executive Director, Jackie Nytes, either diminished or outright rejected these complaints.  This gaslighting provoked a strong response from community leaders, library staff and patrons.  More and more people demanded change.  By August of 2021, Ms. Nytes had resigned, and a search began for a new library leader.  Community leaders made it clear to the Board that this should be a person capable of helping the library address and resolve systemic racial inequities and create a more inclusive culture.

In April of 2022, Nichelle Hayes, the Director of the Library’s Center For Black Literature and Culture, was selected to serve as the Interim CEO.  This was widely acclaimed as a step in the right direction.  In the summer of 2022, Nichelle decided to apply for the permanent CEO position.  After a several month-long process, Nichelle was selected as one of two finalists for the CEO position.  However, in December, the Library Board, by a 4-2 vote, selected Gabriel Morley, a white man, to lead the library system in “resolving its systemic racial inequities and creating a more inclusive culture.”  The community response was immediate and negative.  Within days, Mr. Morley turned down the job offer.

In response to this development, the Library Board announced Nichelle Hayes would not be offered the job, even though she was the other finalist.  Indeed, the Library Board put out a statement saying “Nichelle Hayes did not have the qualifications and experience necessary for the position” and that they would restart the search process.  Nichelle Hayes was removed as Interim CEO.  Even when the Indianapolis City Council voted in favor of the Library Board hiring Ms. Hayes, the Board refused to budge.  In response to this, the National Conference of African American Librarians – understandably – cancelled their conference scheduled for Indianapolis in July.

Let me be clear. I have no inside information about the workings of the search committee, the deliberations of the Library Board, or the interactions between the Board and Nichelle Hayes.

However, I know Nichelle Hayes.

In 2017, when Jackie Nytes, the CEO of IMCPL, hired Nichelle Hayes as the director of the Center For Black Literature and Culture, she invited me to meet Nichelle.  Jackie was aware of my work in Indianapolis on racial inequity and reconciliation and thought Nichelle could benefit from my support.  Ms. Nytes explained Nichelle would be asked to create the center from scratch, to envision its work and scope, develop its budget, create its collection, work with foundations and donors, and market and promote the Center.  She described an executive position of which she thought Nichelle especially fitted.  At the end of our conversation, Jackie said something which seems both ironic and prophetic now.  She said, “We both know Nichelle is going to face racist resistance and opposition to building and promoting the Center and I hope you’ll help her.”

Over the past six years, I’ve had many opportunities to work with Nichelle on events and workshops.  In these interactions, I have come to deeply appreciate and value her vision, creativity and excellence.  I don’t know all that happened behind the scenes in this fiasco of a job search and hiring process, but I do know Nichelle Hayes.

The Library Board statement that Nichelle Hayes is not qualified for the CEO position is a lie.

The Library Board obviously thought her qualified enough to serve in this position as an interim.  Did they do so because they valued her capabilities?  Or did they do this hoping she would fail and thereby diminish their responsibility to hire the first person of color to lead the library system?

The library search committee and the Board obviously thought her qualified enough to be selected as one of their two finalists for the CEO position.  Did they do so because they recognized her competence?  Or did they do this as a token act to give the impression of a fair and racially equitable hiring process?

I know Nichelle Hayes,  These statements about her inadequacies for the job are insulting and, frankly, racist.  As the National Conference of African American Librarians stated in their announcement, “The actions of the Indianapolis Public Library Board are a reflection of what happens within our profession, where hardworking, talented and qualified people are used to clean up messes, fix problems, and to just be seen enough that a diversity goal is ticked without any substantive change. When entities believe you are not ‘the person’ they create imaginary barriers designed to stop progress both for the professional, and the profession.”

Well said.

Nichelle Hayes is not the only person I know in this mess.

I also know Pat Payne, one of the two Board members to vote against Mr. Morley.  Pat has repeatedly expressed her support for Nichelle Hayes.

Years ago, when I began my journey to explore issues of racial inequity, discrimination and reparations, I began to seek people in Indianapolis who shared that passion.  One of the names I heard repeatedly was Pat Payne, an educator and administrator in the Indianapolis Public School system, who had been working for racial justice for over 60 years in Indianapolis.  Eventually, I had the good fortune to met Pat, hear her story, learn from her experience and call her a friend.

I quickly realized that when it comes to issues of racial progress in Indianapolis, whatever side of a racially fraught issue that Pat stands on is where I want to stand.

In 2017, the Indianapolis Recorder exposed the deeply embedded racism within the Indianapolis library system.  In 2023, it has become obvious that the racist rot goes all the way to the root of the tree.  In their latest statement, the Library Board advocated for a fresh start in seeking leadership for the IMCPL.

In this, I agree with the Library Board.

We need a fresh start.

It is time for the four members of the Indianapolis Library Board who voted for a white man over a black woman to help IMCPL “resolve its systemic racial inequities and create a more inclusive culture” to resign.  This will allow their appointing organizations to choose people who can approach the challenge of seeking a new CEO for the library system without the taint of this failure in leadership.

The time for tree trimming is over.

We need to plant a new tree.


(Yesterday, January 17th, The Indianapolis Library Board held a special session which I attended.  They did not allow public comment and passed a resolution to hire a Chief Administrative Officer to handle an interim period of no more than 12 months. In their opening statements, I was shocked by the apparent inability of the Board to recognize its own failures in this recent process.  Public comment will be allowed next Monday, January 23rd at their 6 :30 p.m. regular Board meeting.  I will be there and commenting.  I hope you’ll join me.)

Black Women As Superheroes

Black Women As Superheroes

I recently attended the move “Wakanda Forever” with my wife and Black daughter.  Based on the comics of my youth, I’ve seen and enjoyed many of the Marvel movies.  Though my wife isn’t a fan, I’ve taken my daughter with me often.  She likes them, too.

Wakanda Forever was different.

My daughter, who is fifteen, sat next to me during the move and was visibly moved.  During several scenes, tears would stream down her cheeks.  At the end of the movie, she sat quietly in her seat until every single credit rolled.  Then, with a sigh, she stood and we left the movie.

I’ve thought a lot about her emotional response.  What was she seeing on that screen that I wasn’t seeing?

She was seeing herself.

Wakanda Forever is a movie about strong black women.  Black women who lead nations.  Black women who successfully fight for justice.  Black women who face adversity and triumph.  Black woman as superheroes.

Yes, Wakanda Forever is based on a comic.  It portrays a nation and world that does not exist.  It presents Black women with powers they do not presently have. 

That’s the point.

All of the Marvel movies are based on comics.  All of them a world that does not exist.  All of them present human beings with powers they do not presently have.  That is their allure.  As a child, I dressed up as Superman for Halloween precisely because of the attraction of having superpowers and saving the world.

As a white boy, Superman was just one of my many options.  I could be Spiderman, Batman, Ironman, Antman, Aquaman, Captain America, Thor, the Hulk, Doctor Strange, Wolverine, and on and on.  White boys grew up immersed in images of white men with superpowers.  White girls had Wonder Woman and Supergirl.  Note that a female superhero couldn’t even be called Superwoman.  Black men had a single option in the Black Panther. 

Black women were largely absent from the comic universe.  Ironically, one of the more popular female superheroes – the Black Widow – was a white woman.

All of which brings me back to Wakanda Forever.

What my daughter experienced in watching that movie was something new and unique for black women and girls.  In this movie, a Black women, surrounded by other strong Black women, was the lead character and superhero.  As much as my daughter liked the original Black Panther movie, it did not impact my daughter like this sequel.  Black Panther was still a movie where the primary character was a man.  Wakanda Forever announced to the whole world that Black women can be superheroes.  In this movie, we continue the dismantling of the long-defended white supremacy, racism, and misogyny of the comic universe.

For those you think this judgment of the comic universe severe, please remember all the objections when Spiderman was recently portrayed as a Black man.  Thousands of white men objected that “Spiderman was white.”  Think about that assumption.  An imaginary superhero must be white.  Though many argued for some kind of historic sanctity of the original character, what they were really arguing for was for a world where even fantasy is reserved for and dominated by white men.

During the previews before Wakanda Forever, the live action recreation of “The Little Mermaid” was highlighted with its Black lead character.  In response, there have already been white people complaining that “Mermaids aren’t Black.”  If I have to explain how utterly ridiculous such a statement is, you probably don’t see systemic racism either.

Indeed, the history of our American comics are a vivid demonstration of the power of white male supremacy and systemic racism over the past sixty years.  Superheroes were white men.  Women and people of color were either the villains or those in need of rescue.  Female superheroes were often known more for their cleavage than their powers.  The existence of a Black superhero was so incredible that Stan Lee had to create an imaginary country for him.  Only gradually and begrudgingly, have comics allowed women and minorities into its universe.

While Wakanda Forever is a fantasy breakthrough, it is also surprisingly realistic about the world we live in.  In the movie, the US and European powers are working against this all Black nation, hoping to steal its resources.  In the movie, the primary Black male character still challenges the Black woman for power, implying she is inadequate.  In the movie, instead of fighting white supremacy, Blacks are pitted against Indigenous people.

It will be fascinating to watch how Hollywood advances the storyline in the sequel to Wakanda Forever.  Will Wakanda survive in a white dominant world?  Will the female Black Panther remain primary or be supplanted by a man?  Will Blacks and Indigenous peoples unite to fight a common oppressor?  Will the comic universe have room for a comic that paints an alternative to white supremacy?  Or will this whole endeavor be characterized as “woke” and abandoned?

I don’t know those answers.

Tonight, I am simply celebrating my daughter saw herself as a superhero.

Diversity Is For White People

Diversity Is For White People

It is a sad commentary on US Supreme Court that it’s single Black male representative – Justice Clarence Thomas – does not think diversity valuable.  In a recent hearing on Affirmative Action in college admissions, Thomas argued he was not educated in racially diverse schools and did fine.  He added, “I don’t have any idea what diversity means.”

That he doesn’t understand what diversity means calls into question his claim to a good education.

It’s not that complicated.

Diversity is what occurs when an organization, population or institution is made up of people from a vast variety of backgrounds and life experiences, including race, ethnicity, gender, age etc.  Diversity is valuable because more and more research shows diverse groups are more productive, creative, and effective.  In other words, the US Supreme Court is more likely to make good decisions if it has Female, Black, Asian, Latino, Native American and other members with a wide spectrum of life experiences.

It is hard to imagine Thomas would argue the US Supreme Court would be a better institution if it were nine white men, though he might.  White conservatives pushed for his inclusion on the Supreme Court in 1991 precisely because he didn’t value racial justice, equity, or diversity.  In other words, he shared and voiced the opinions of white supremacists.  Ironically, while Thomas claims to not understand diversity, those who sponsored him saw his nomination as meeting the nation’s increased desire for diversity while as the same time protecting the status quo.

While I have serious disagreements with Justice Thomas, I want to acknowledge something I do think Thomas understands from his experience.  Diversity is not necessary for Black people to succeed.  Indeed, the history of Black success and progress in America is one of Black people, during heavy-handed racial discrimination and inequity, banding together to encourage and support one another.  Thomas is a product of that segregated system.  For him, arguments for affirmative action are an affront to all his personal efforts to succeed.  They suggest, in his opinion, Blacks cannot succeed without their inclusion in more diverse settings.

In this critique, I agree with Thomas.  Too often, including in this recent Supreme Court hearing, the language of diversity is couched in terms that suggest diversity helps Black men and women succeed and thrive.  This is not true.  What minorities need is inclusion and not diversity.  Black people exist in diverse populations, organizations, and institutions from the moment of their birth.  They do not have to seek diversity.  It is continually thrust upon them.  They are constantly in situations where they are the minority.  Black people do not have the possibility of living their lives without interaction with people who are different than them.   That is a white problem.

Progressives who argue diversity is good for students need to be very careful.  By this argument, Black students who attend HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) are in less diverse settings and therefore receiving a poorer education.  For a black student, a HBCU is an often unique educational opportunity.  It is an opportunity for solidarity within a minority group.  For white students, an educational experience without diversity is the norm.

Progressives should be arguing that diversity is good for white students.  It is these students who often grow up in rural and suburban setting with little diversity and the assumption that everyone looks, acts, and thinks as they do.  State college and universities benefit from diversity precisely because they have historically been largely white institutions.  They are strengthened by the presence of Black, Asian, Latino, Native American and other representatives.  Ironically, white students are the chief beneficiary of diversity.  Minorities are the chief beneficiaries of inclusion.

Unfortunately, much of the Affirmative Action argument has been framed as state colleges and universities giving less qualified Black students opportunities over those of more qualified white students.  While I believe there are good reasons – reparations, equity, past injustice – for doing this as well, it is time to reframe this discussion in terms of creating educational institutions that look, act and interact in ways that prepare students for a diverse world.

Predominately white college and universities prepare white students for a white dominant and supremacist world.  They do this whether they intend to or not.   Diverse universities and colleges prepare students to interact in an increasing diverse world.  Those who argue – including Justice Thomas – for eliminating affirmative action and diversity in education are arguing for an archaic educational system which can only increase polarization, intolerance, and racial animosity.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first black women on the Supreme Court, has a much better understanding of the value of diversity than Justice Thomas.  Jackson asked those opposing any role of racial identity in college admissions this question,

What if one applicant writes in his essay that it is important to him that he be admitted because his family has lived in North Carolina since before the Civil War and he would be the fifth generation of his family to proudly attend UNC and another applicant writes that his family, too, has lived in North Carolina since before the Civil War, and it is important to him that he attend UNC because he is the descendant of enslaved people and his ancestors were barred from attending the university?  Should the racial identity of the second applicant matter?

In other words, is the University of North Carolina a better educational environment if it honors and gives preference to white students – who have long been the majority of the student body – or would the University of North Carolina be a better educational environment if it intentionally included both white and black students?

It is time for our society to see the experiences and perspectives of a first generation Black student with ancestors who were enslaved and grandparents who were unable to vote and parents who struggled against racial discrimination as a valuable addition to the university student body.  Not because they have the best grades, but because they have overcome obstacles that their white peers cannot understand.

Indeed, without their presence, their white peers will never understand.

White people need diversity.

Democracy Has Always Been In Peril

Democracy Has Always Been In Peril

Note to my white self…

I know you’re worried about the upcoming elections.

You see dozens of Republican candidates running on the big lie of “stolen elections.”  You hear Kari Lake, the Republican gubernatorial candidate in Arizona saying that she “will either win the election or it will have been rigged against her.”  You watch media pundits constantly talking about voter fraud even though there were only about 475 cases of fraud in over 25 million votes cast in 2020 in battleground states.  Based on the big lie, Republican legislatures have made it easier to obstruct voters and overturn elections.  Gerrymandering is at an all time high with fewer and fewer competitive races.

You worry that our democracy is in peril.

This worry is only new for you.

Blacks and other people of color have been worried about elections and democracy for generations.

Even before the Emancipation Proclamation, Blacks knew the noble words of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were hollow and empty.   The assertion that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” did not include women or any person of color.  “We, the people” was limited to white men.  Racism and misogyny have always been enemies of democracy.  The Magna Carta may have overthrown the English king, but it simply meant every white man was the “king of his own castle.”  Democracy, as a principle, was reserved for white men.

this-is-a-white-mans-government-we-regard-the-reconstruction-acts-so-called (1)Black people celebrated the hope of greater democracy with the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution.  These revisions were both acknowledgements of the original Constitution’s flaws and an attempt to create democracy, but those amendments largely failed.  By the 1870s, Jim Crow laws had created all kinds of obstacles for Black people to vote.  In World War I and World War II, Blacks were asked to fight to protect democracy, even though they were not participants and beneficiaries of that democracy.  Some of those soldiers were lynched when they arrived home.  The United States was a democracy on paper, but not in reality.

A_large_group_of_African_American_children_gather_around_a_sign_encouraging_people_to_register_to_vote._(5279449524)During the Civil Rights movement, Blacks challenged the institutions of “democracy.”  With protests and court cases, they battered down the doors to a democracy that had been reserved for and defended by white men.  Laws were passed to make it possible for Black people to actually vote.  In 1965, the Voting Rights Act was passed to protect and defend what the 15th Amendment had guaranteed 100 years before.

However, changing laws did not change the racist system.  Case after case was brought to the Supreme Court as states and municipalities were sued for doing their best to deny democracy to non-whites.  In many Southern states, it would take 30 more years for their legislatures to see their first Black representatives.

If you are Black, democracy has always been in peril.

If you are Black, you don’t look at the attempts by a conservative Supreme Court to dismantle the Voting Rights Act as something new.  You don’t wring your hands at gerrymandering designed to distribute Black votes in majority white districts.  You are not surprised by voter ID laws and voting roll purges that inordinately impact people of color.  You know why most states don’t allow felons to vote.

You laugh at white people chanting “Stop the steal.”

White people have been stealing votes for that last 180 years.  They have no interest in stopping that practice.  They are worried about those tactics precisely because they know their effectiveness.

Whether you are a white conservative or a white progressive, this is what makes your sudden interest in election integrity so laughable.  Too many of you only began worrying about election integrity when someone told you white votes were being stolen.

Let’s be clear.

Most white men still think they should be kings of their own castles.

Most white men have never been invested or interested in democracy.  Indeed, many white men continue to resist every single expansion of voting, decision making and power.  Many of their wives have opposed the rights of people of color.  Better to be queen of a castle than an equal to men and women of color.

It is not so much that democracy is in peril.

Democracy has yet to be truly tried in America.

What democracy we have is almost entirely the result of Black men and women refusing to allow us to pretend to be a democracy.

I don’t know what will happen on Tuesday.  It is entirely possible we will see white supremacist forces retake power in legislatures and in Washington DC as they have in the past.  If so, this will come as no surprise to Black activists.  This will also not be the death of democracy.  It will be one more bloody battle in the long war between those who believe in democracy and those who don’t

Nobody Objected To Slavery?

Nobody Objected To Slavery?

“Nobody objected to slavery before we decided as Americans that we were endowered by our creator with inalienable rights and that we were created equal.  Then that birthed abolition movements.”

                                                 Florida Governor Ron DeSantis,  September 20, 2022


There are so many things wrong with this recent statement by the white supremacist Governor of Florida that it is hard to know where to start.

So let me start with the first word, “nobody.”

Apparently, DeSantis believes the 500,000 Blacks and Indigenous people who were enslaved in 1776 did not object to their enslavement, that they found their enslavement a perfectly acceptable state of existence?  If so, he is sadly mistaken.  The countless large and small slave revolts between 1619 and 1776 demonstrate a deep objection to slavery by those who were enslaved.  DeSantis might want to spend a few minutes on Wikipedia reading about the Stono Rebellion in 1731.  These enslaved people did not need noble words written by a white slave owner to realize the brutality and injustice of slavery.  Thomas Jefferson was not their hero.

Of course, when DeSantis said “nobody objected to slavery,” he wasn’t thinking about those 500,000 Black and Indigenous people.  He meant no white Europeans objected.  Nobody who mattered objected. He was being completely dismissive of the worth of those 500,000 humans – 20% of the American population in 1776.  For him, the opinions and feelings of Black and Indigenous people then and now do not really count.  Whether it was a slave in 1776 objecting to their enslavement or a BLM protestor objecting to their discrimination today, they are nobodies to Mr. DeSantis.  The only objections that matter are white ones.

However, DeSantis’ assertion that no white person objected to slavery until the Declaration of Independence is also wildly inaccurate. The Quaker Benjamin Lay would be an obvious example of pre-1776 Colonial leaders with vigorous objections to slavery.  Lay was known for his colorful and dramatic demonstrations of his hatred of slavery.  He once hollowed out a Bible, filled it with blood and skewered it with a sword during a worship service to illustrate the hypocrisy of Christians enslaving other human beings. Lay lived in a cave and was admittedly eccentric.

So perhaps what DeSantis meant was that no reasonable white person objected to slavery until 1776.  That, too, would be a ridiculous claim.  Benjamin Rush, one of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, was widely known and respected for his treatises against slavery.  He was one of a number of white leaders who vocally opposed slavery prior to 1776.  It was not the noble words of a slave owning Jefferson that helped Rush and others to see the light.  Indeed, these critics of slavery would repeatedly  point out the terrible ironies in the Declaration and later in the US Constitution.  They understood that Jefferson and others reserved “We hold that all men are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights” to white men.

So, if DeSantis is trying to impress with his historic knowledge, his first few words fail horribly.  They aren’t just inaccurate.  They are outright lies.  Hundreds of thousands of people – Black, Indigenous and white – objected to slavery long before the Declaration of Independence. In the case of non-whites, rebellions and runaways make his claim ridiculous.  In the case of whites, a simple Google search exposes his error. So why try to make such a claim?

Historically, one of the chief aims of white supremacist rhetoric has been to diminish the culpability of white people in the maintenance of American Industrial slavery. When DeSantis claims – falsely – that nobody objected to slavery, he is promoting the idea that slavery – in its day – was seen as a perfectly acceptable and ethical institution, that judging those people by our modern standards is unfair.  According to this way of thinking, how could any reasonable person – pre-Declaration of Independence – have known they were doing anything objectionable? Even the Bible supported slavery.

This sinister claim by white supremacists excuses not only past discrimination, but present injustice.  When DeSantis argues – falsely – that nobody objected, he also diminishes the societal culpability for past, present and future racial injustice.  How can white people be held accountable for something everyone thought acceptable?  It is easy to see how in 50 years some white supremacist politician could make a similar argument about the racial discrimination of our justice system today, suggesting “nobody objected to the inordinate and unjust incarceration of Black youth in the 2000s.”  They could even claim, as some already do, that Black residents of urban neighborhoods demanded these incarcerations.

One of the other aims of white supremacist rhetoric is to imply that Black and Indigenous people had little role in their own emancipation.  In DeSantis’ statement, white people are presented as the heroes of the fight against slavery.  Thanks to their noble words in the Declaration, white Americans woke to the evils of slavery and began to work for its demise.  Without the words of Jefferson, Black and Indigenous people would never have realized they had certain inalienable rights.

Again, this rewriting of the American story is crucial to sustaining white supremacy.  According to this mythology, whatever rights Black and Indigenous people have today are the gifts of white people.  Non-whites were either too stupid to understand their plight and too lazy to change it.  White people freed the slaves!  This is the one-line history of slavery that DeSantis likes and would have taught in Florida school, even though any honest historic retelling would need to acknowledge that white Floridians only freed Black and Indigenous people at the muzzle of a gun. 

For DeSantis, truth telling requires no mention of the Nat Turner Rebellion, of the Haitian Revolution, of Harriet Tubman, of Florida’s secession from the United States to protect slavery, of the thousands of Blacks who fought and died during the Civil War, of Frederick Douglas, of the KKK, of Jim Crow laws, of Rosewood massacre in Florida, and of the Civil Rights Movement.  In his twisted narrative, just teach our children that, thanks to the noble words of a white man named Jefferson, Blacks and Indigenous people were freed.

In this goal, DeSantis isn’t subtle. A clip from his speech with his claims about slavery was posted by the Governor on his Facebook page with the following statement, “In Florida, we require the truth about American history be taught in our classrooms.  We will not allow schools to twist history to align with an ideological agenda.”

This, too, is a lie.

 It is also a dog whistle to every white supremacist voter in Florida and in the presidential elections in which DeSantis hopes to run someday.

DeSantis is clearly stating his administration’s unwillingness to allow Florida schools to teach history that doesn’t align with a white supremacist agenda.

He has absolutely no concerns about the twisting of history.  It is white supremacist twisting of history he hopes to sustain and defend.

Heaven help us if this man becomes President of the United States.

Seven Times More Likely

Seven Times More Likely

On August 25th, Sullivan Walter – a Black man – was released from prison in Louisiana after spending 36 years and two months incarcerated for a rape he did not commit.  In 1986, at the age of 17, Mr. Walter was convicted of a rape in a one-day trial even though the investigating officers and prosecutor knew that the semen collected from the crime was not his.  His case is the longest known wrongful incarceration in Louisiana history and the fifth longest in US history.

Imagine for a moment being accused of something you did not do.  Imagine having the police, investigators, lawyers, judges, and jury all predisposed to think you did it.  Imagine not having the resources to fight for your life and liberty.  Imagine being sent to prison or even executed for a crime you did not commit.

There may be nothing more horrifying to imagine.  The loss of freedom is frightening enough, but imagine also losing the respect of friends and family, people convinced the justice system gets it right.

Except it often doesn’t.

Our justice system brings all the national and historic prejudices, biases and injustices of our society into every legal interaction.  A recent study by the National Registry of Exonerations, when examining defendants who were exonerated after serving time in prison, found Black people are seven times more likely than white people to be falsely convicted of serious crimes and spent longer periods in prison before being exonerated.

The study found that though Black people represent only about 14% of the population, they account for 53% of the 3200 exonerations on the registry as of August of 2022.  Drilling down into the statistics, innocent Black Americans were 7½ times more likely to be convicted of murder than innocent white people and these miscarriages of justice were 50% more likely to result from misconduct by police officers and prosecutors.  Essentially, police officers were far more likely to fabricate evidence or hide exculpating facts when the defendant was Black.  Prosecutors – who are predominately white – were far more likely to ignore or hide exonerating evidence in their desire for a conviction.

Even more disturbing, a vast majority of the exonerations came from a few big cities with large Black populations where governments had units specifically looking for misconduct or improper convictions.  In most of the jurisdictions in our country there are no attempts to verify and review the convictions of Black people.  It only stands to reason that in these mostly white municipalities, the chances of being improperly convicted are probably much higher.

This is how our justice system works for Black folk…

  • They can expect to be profiled, targeted, and harassed by the police.
  • In encounters with police, they can expect to be seen as a threat and more likely to have violence, tasers or guns used against them.
  • They can expect to be arrested at a higher rate for the same suspicions, infractions, and crimes.
  • They are more likely to have the police officers manufacture evidence against them or provide false testimony.
  • They are less likely to have adequate legal representation.
  • They are more likely to have their bail denied or set at higher rates.
  • They are more likely to accept a sentence reduction by admitting to a crime they did not commit in order to be released from jail or prison.
  • They are more likely to be convicted by a judge or jury of criminal behavior.
  • They will be sentenced to more time than their white peers for equivalent crimes.
  • Once incarcerated, they are less likely to be released for good behavior.

And now we know that statistically, they are 7 times more likely to be exonerated for a crime they did not commit which suggests Black folk are more likely to have been convicted of a crime they did not commit.

Let me be clear.  Every time a Black person is exonerated for a crime they did not commit, this is not a good news story.  It is evidence of how poorly our system is working for Black people.   These are stories of justice denied, delayed and ignored.  While I am glad Mr. Walter is finally free, his freedom does not diminish the injustice of what was done to him by a racist system.  Indeed, the injustices toward him continue.  He was released from prison to an impoverished existence with few marketable skills, no accumulated assets, and limited opportunities.

When I relate stories like this to my white peers, they often shake their heads in sadness and comment, “I wish there was something we could do to avoid these situations.”  They imply such occurrences of injustice are unavoidable.

This is one of the lies of white supremacy.

Our present justice system is designed to give us exactly what we get – disproportional injustice for those who are not white.  This is intentional in the design and implementation of the system. Our system, even when it acknowledges its flaws, does little to eliminate them.  It is a system with laws and statutes of limitation that protect police officers and prosecutors from any consequences for their intentional acts of wrongful arrest and conviction.  Indeed, it is a system which protects its “bad apples” and ostracizes those who expose racist behavior.

Let me suggest three steps that would seriously reduce or even eliminate cases of innocent Americans – black or otherwise – of being convicted of crimes they did not commit because of the unscrupulous behavior of police officers and prosecutors.

  1. All municipalities should be made financially responsible for miscarriages of justice. Laws should dictate the payment of $1 million dollars per year to persons who were victims of the fabrication of evidence or hiding of exonerating facts.  This would have two immediate impacts.  First, it would mean someone like Sullivan Walker would be due $36 million dollars as compensation for the injustice done to him by representatives of the State.  Second, jurisdictions would have a much stronger incentive to vet and monitor their employees for racial animosity and ethical integrity.
  1. Lawyers and law firms should be allowed to collect 50% of any compensation provided by the State for wrongful convictions. This would incentivize the system to vigorously examine every case and aggressively investigate possible injustices.  Instead of relying on a few non-profits and poorly staffed governmental units to expose these injustices, we would apply the benefits of a capitalistic society to solving the problem.  Exposing injustice would become lucrative.
  1. Finally, we could legislate that in cases where clear wrongdoing on the part of police officers and prosecutors was exposed, that the perpetrators of these crimes WOULD FULFILL THE SENTENCES OF THOSE THEY VICTIMIZED. This could serve as a powerful deterrent, especially in cases of capitol crime, to intentionally convicting someone for a crime they did not commit.  In addition, the State could be empowered to confiscate the assets of the offenders in order to contribute to the monetary compensation being provided to the victim.

If our country is really interested in justice, why not create strong incentives for police officers and prosecutors to do their very best to avoid the conviction of innocent people?  In a system with racial inequities, why not make sure that those who are victimized by this system can at least know we take that victimization seriously?

Cases like that of Sullivan Walker are avoidable.

If we want them to be.

Anti-Racism Index

Anti-Racism Index


I have been writing blogs two or three times a week for five years now.  I began with the realization that I knew very little about racism.  Over those past five years, I discovered my ignorance exceeded my expectations.  There was so much I did not know or understand.

Today, I am adding a subject index to my blog website.  I’ve taken some of my biggest epiphanies and arranged them in the following categories…


Each segment includes about a dozen blogs around that subject area with links to the blog posts and a short description of the content.

I hope you’ll take a few minutes to browse the index.

More importantly, I hope you’ll consider this as a resource as you and others navigate life in our racially-challenged society.